My practice of disconnecting began with television in that misty time before the internet. I watched quite a bit of tv as a child, before cable services were available, and have a handful of key memories from that time including a number of performances that helped draw me deeper into the performing arts. But by my teen years reading had become a much more important practice. And once I could drive movie theaters became a frequent destination.
Nevertheless I kept watching tv in high school. Around my senior year an important event occurred. I was occasionally hanging out with an older fellow, a friend of my mom’s who had inspired me to start writing poetry years before, who became my friend. He was an avid tv watcher and I remember, in particular, watching episodes of Mash and Saturday Night Live.
John Dancy-Jones had the unique habit of turning down the sound during commercials. While this may be quite a small form of disconnecting, it had a profound impact on me and I eventually followed suit. Shutting down the blast of higher volume commercials with their generally useless content introduced me to the idea that my control of media consumption could be more fine-grained than an on-off switch.
In college I experienced the next level of disconnecting when I moved into my dorm room without a television. None of my roommates had tvs that first year so the habit of killing time by mindlessly consuming whatever was available finally fell away. I remember my mom asking me if I needed a television with a strong emphasis on the word “need.” And that’s when I knew so clearly that, no, I didn’t need a television at all.
“The rapid rewards we get from skimming our newsfeeds alleviate boredom for a few moments, but they also teach our brains to seek out blips of joy the next time we feel a twinge of fatigue, Gazzaley and Rosen explain, ‘the next time we are bored, our past experiences, having gained reinforcement from our smartphone, will drive us to self-interrupt.'”
“So by reaching for our phones when we want a break, we may be training ourselves to do it again and again. In order to resist the onset of boredom and self-interruption at work, Gazzaley and Rosen suggest we avoid our smartphones and instead take breaks that restore the part of the brain we use to keep focused on our goals.”
“‘You have to be dedicated… I thought, ‘you’re just here once, life is brief and to have to spend every day of it doing what somebody else wants you to do is not the way to live it.” McCarthy doesn’t ‘have any advice for anybody’ about how to avoid the daily grind, except, he says, ‘if you’re really dedicated, you can probably do it.’ As Oprah puts it, ‘you have worked at not working?’ To which he replies, ‘absolutely, it’s the number one priority.'”
New Year’s Point/Counterpoint:
Smartphones are stealing our time. This new year, I want to claim it back
“It is easy to sound moralistic, but the point I make is more about claiming back our thinking time and our attention from these devices. Every second that we don’t spend on a smartphone is one we could spend in some other more meaningful way. You don’t have to volunteer or read classic literature, but at least you have that time at your disposal. How you spend it is up to you.”
“So, by all means, go ahead and reject technology, cabin boy, in the hope that will reconnect you to nature, and to the authentic self you assume is the shining inheritance of a Rousseauian Golden Age, rather than the personal muddle of anxieties, desires and neuroses we must each try to untangle in our efforts to glean happiness from our existence. There’s an old hippie saying I’ve always liked: wherever you go, there you are. Even if you leave your phone behind.”
“Simple happiness hack: no email/internet for 1 hour after waking, same 1 hour before bed. Try it for a week.”
[Published at We Disconnect on April 24, 2017]